I'll conclude my 4-part November, 2019 visit to Japan by saving the best – Kyoto City – for last. If the “cultural capital” of Japan has a dark side, I certainly didn't see it. Though my brain was in a jet-lag blur, still there was so much surrounding beauty that I stayed energized. My wife, her parents and our two bilingual daughters took care of the details while I entertained myself with the visuals. My 16-year-old is outspoken and can be harsh, but she snapped at me only once when I wasn't paying attention about where to stick the train ticket, the f....... train ticket!
Travel magazines heap high praise for Kyoto, and you can see why the placid (though stimulating) city is the perfect venue for international get-togethers...where the intellectual elite try to figure out how to regulate us (tax us) to save our planet. Late November is a fantastic time to see the native flora, while any time is wonderful for viewing the native people (females especially) which was my hobby on the trains and on the streets. Once...the train door opened and a lively, giggling group of a dozen cutely-uniformed six-year-olds danced out, and it reminded me of a photo of Haruko when she was young. They were the sweetest little creatures, shining with lantern-lit faces, and thank God their parents fell in love.
Haruko's family groaned for us about Kyoto, that it would be crammed with tourists, and it goes without saying that the bulk of them would be Chinese. I didn't think it would matter, but it did. You can't appreciate the essence of a Japanese garden when it's too full of people. First of all, no one should be allowed to talk, and please explain to your kids that they can scream and play in an amusement park, but not in a temple garden. Secondly, to photograph a garden's trees and vistas, that is how I commune with nature, and I certainly don't want you standing in the way. Most of my time was spent waiting for you to get out of the way; but of course I realize that I was, also, in your way.
We started our morning by van to an area north of Kyoto – first to the “white sugi” which I described in a previous blog. After that to a temple complex called Jingoji* where the Cryptomeria forest was scattered with large, brilliant-red maples. It was difficult to photograph the scenery with one hand operating the camera and the other holding up an umbrella. I usually don't wear my glasses – when I should – but ahead in the distance was a maple with orange-red foliage that glowed in the fog, and its color was more intense than the other surrounding maples. I approached for a closer look only to discover that I was seeing Enkianthus campanulatus, and how fun I imagined it would be to return in spring to see it in flower.
*Jin (God) go (well-protected) ji (temple)
|Chikurin no michi|
By noon our driver returned us to a train-station area of Kyoto where he could barely proceed due to hundreds – thousands really – of tourists having oblivious fun strolling down the middle of the road without looking out for traffic. “Ni hao” then. Haruko's parents have been to Kyoto many times so her mother led us down a path to one of her favorite places – a giant bamboo forest.* It was packed with people too, but at least the grove was more subdued than the ruckus back out on the street. It was a fantastic place and I pictured myself being filthy rich so I could plant my own 10 acre bamboo forest. Most visitors behave properly of course, but here and there you would find a trunk that some knucklehead had carved on, and those defilements were painted over with colors that blended in with the natural trunk. So, no matter how stupid you are there was no point in the vandalism.
*Known as “Path of the Bamboo” (Chikurin no michi) and is said to have been loved by the Japanese for over 1000 years.
An enduring symbol of Kyoto is the Togetsu kyo Bridge which scenically crosses the Katsura River.* The first bridge to exist there was built in 836, while the current structure was finished in 1934. The name togetsu means “moon crossing,” and is so-called when Emperor Kameyama was undertaking a boating party under a full moon, which looked to him like the moon was actually crossing on the bridge. With enough sake, perhaps.
*The current below Togetsu kyo is called the Oi River, while later downstream it is known as the Katsura River.
The backdrop of the bridge is perfect too with the autumn foliage of Arashiyama Mountain. The rain had stopped and there must have been a thousand tourists on the bridge recording the color, and the taxi drivers and rickshaw pullers had to be most careful. The rickshaw is an Asian symbol of the poor pulling the privileged and I have refused to ever ride on one. However in Kyoto the pullers were handsome, strong young men with smiling faces who actually seemed to enjoy the job. They often serve as tour guides with knowledge of the places and Haruko says they are very skilled at working the thank you tip. The Chinese tourists probably also reveled that it was the Japanese carting their entitled fat butts around town, not the other way around like the past.
Alas, I didn't feel like mingling with the mob on the bridge, so H and I came back early the following morning, and we successfully waited for the sun to light up the maple hill behind.
Haruko's mother, Fumiesan, was energetic in leading me to places she imagined I would like and they were all great. I would never want to bother her again, or her husband, for all the trouble and expense they went to. But it was my first ever visit to Kyoto, and they were very proud to show me the best of Japan.
I didn't bother to document the names of all the gardens and temples we saw; it all blurs as you leave one and enter into another. My short time in Kyoto was like a traditional Japanese meal where you nibble at a lot of small portions, nevertheless you sigh with complete satisfaction at the end.
The following are random images which prove my point.